Eastern Caribbean Cruise, March 2023

In March of 2023 we flew to Florida to take a Caribbean cruise with stops in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, and Saint Thomas, USVI. Following the cruise we used an open day in Orlando to cash in a free day-pass at a Disney park as well.

This cruise had waited a few years before it came to fruition, actually. We had planned to visit Puerto Rico and St Thomas on a Royal Caribbean cruise back in 2017, but hurricanes Irma and Maria hit back to back and we postponed the trip. Then we also were about to take a Carnival cruise in 2021 that would have visited the DR but due to the ongoing Covid travel restrictions at the time we had to postpone yet again.

So finally, with a Carnival cruise credit to use or lose along with the free Disney pass, we made reservations a year in advance and finally traveled to the Eastern Caribbean.

  1. Day 1: Orlando and Port Canaveral
    1. Manatee Sanctuary Park
  2. Day 2: Sea Day
  3. Day 3: Amber Cove, Dominican Republic
  4. Day 4: San Juan, Puerto Rico
  5. Day 5: Saint Martin
  6. Day 6: St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
  7. Days 7 & 8: At Sea
  8. Day 9: Back to Orlando and Disney Hollywood Studios

Day 1: Orlando and Port Canaveral

We flew out the night before and arrived at our hotel at about 2AM due to the time change from MST to EST. We rented a car at Orlando airport to drive ourselves to the cruise port, while also giving us latitude to make a few stops to pick up supplies before boarding the boat. At $64 for a less than 24 rental this was actually much cheaper than using Lyft or Uber or a shuttle service for 4 people.

We woke up the next morning feeling expectedly groggy but wanted to get to Port Canaveral fairly early so that we could make a stop at Manatee Sanctuary Park just a few short miles from the port.

Manatee Sanctuary Park

Manatee Sanctuary Park is a small park on Merritt Island. There is a boardwalk right by the sheltered inland bay where manatees may be seen in the right season.

We did not see any manatees or even dolphins. But we did see quite a number of other animals of various kinds all within a half hour. Florida soft shell turtles, a skink, a brown anole, a white ibis, and a warbler among them. This was also a last moment of serenity before we would be boarding what we knew would be a very full Carnival Magic cruise ship for spring break.

We then drove down to the Avis at Port Canaveral to return the car and found that there were already a LOT of people waiting for shuttle rides to the port for a number of ships. After about an hour waiting in the hot, sunny waiting area (and debating calling a Lyft or Uber) we finally got on the shuttle and made it to the Carnival embarkation port.

I had bought Faster to the Fun in advance of the cruise to help us get aboard the ship in a priority line. The cost was $125 dollars for one cabin. Even with the priority line it was still about an hour of lines and processing steps before we were aboard the ship. Without FTTF this would have been at least twice as long, so it was still largely worth it. You also get priority debarkation and a special Guest Services line.

You are also supposed to get into your cabin early, which we ended up doing but it isn’t clear the cabin steward knew this was a benefit we had (our room was ready but our room cards had to be delivered to us).

Chilling out in the cabin while we wait for the ship to depart

We were able to get into our cabin earlier than the vast majority of the guests and that was nice as the rest of the ship was full of guests laden with their luggage. Eventually we left the room to get some food from the Lido deck which was crowded beyond reason. Just finding anywhere to sit was next to impossible. This was the worst we saw the Lido cafeteria, but the honest truth is the Carnival Magic at capacity is a bit of a crowded place.

At 4PM the ship left the port and we started the cruise. We had some fun on the 12th deck ropes course (circling it multiple times to try every path) and got in a few games of giant chess (we love playing chess).

Day 2: Sea Day

The second day of the cruise was a sea day traveling through the Bahamas toward the first stop at Amber, Cove in the Dominican Republic.

We were still feeling a bit tired even though we went to bed early the night before (around 8PM EST). I was glad to have a sea day with no itinerary that day to fully recover from the flight and sleeplessness of the prior day.

Passing San Salvador Island in the Bahamas

We took it easy on Day 2 aboard the ship and had a formal night dinner in the ship’s steakhouse. It was the best dinner we had on the cruise, which made sense since it was the fine-dining restaurant and charged extra (although the wine was complimentary).

For free restaurants, Magic did have a Guy’s Burger Joint which was among our favorites throughout the cruise. Guy’s Pig and Anchor BBQ was also decent, but had odd hours (2PM open and 4pm close).

A brown booby (that’s what they call these birds) swoops nearby our cabin on Day 2

Day 3: Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

The Amber Cove stop was our favorite stop of the cruise. I had looked at possible excursions for this port for several months and kept reading that the 27 Waterfalls of Damajagua was the most exciting and worthwhile. I had also read a lot of reviews on TripAdvisor etc to the effect that it was physically demanding and potentially dangerous.

After weighing our options I decided that we should go ahead and do it. But I also had to decide whether to book it through the cruise line or through a tour in the Dominican Republic for less than half the cost (and also give us the chance to be ahead of the crowds that would arrive with the cruise tour).

Finally I decided to book the tour through Viator with Edwin Transfer Tours. I highly recommend doing this as we not only were taken to Damajagua, but got another stop at a plantation in the Dominican countryside on the way back. Although getting to the tour van was a bit of a walk (they park outside the gates on the highway), they treated us great and it was a relief to be away from the cruise hordes (at least for a brief moment).

A rhinoceros beetle at Amber Cove

We found our way through the gate to the highway and only at that point did I realize I didn’t bring our passports (just in case anything went wrong). It was fine though. You only need your ship card to reenter the port.

We found Edwin’s driver and climbed in to go on the tour. We were the only four in Edwin’s tour group that day. The drive up to the 27 Waterfalls was pretty short but gave us a chance to look at the Dominican countryside. When I travel I enjoy seeing ‘real’ places and not the built-up, touristy places that are usually right outside of cruise terminals. Even cows can look very different in a foreign country (and they did in the DR).

After arriving we were given our helmets and lifejackets and while I was hoping to be in our own group we ended up in a larger group which included many from other cruises. It still wan’t too bad though (there were some arrogant, rude New Yorkers that ended up in the excursion group with us but they shut up when they got winded on the hike and we were just fine – we’re Coloradans).

If you read the reviews the hike uphill sounds much more intense than it is. If you are in relatively good physical health and especially if you hike it’s really nothing. My eldest son and I could have run up and back and then back up again. So don’t let those reviews deter you. Just enjoy the forest scenery along the way.

Once you get to the falls the fun begins. You won’t descend 27 falls but instead about 7 (not sure who is counting). While I would never, ever take a child under 8 years old (and I think that is the age limit), older children will have no problem with the help of adults. There are places where you cannot touch the bottom and you can optionally jump at a couple spots. Some of the slides are as high as the jumps in reality.

After making our way through the falls we hiked back along the river to the visitor center. There we had a better buffet lunch than we ever got on the ship. We were really hungry so the food tasted even better.

After the Falls we started back and the driver asked if we were interested in stopping at a market. We weren’t sure what the market was but we wanted to do a little souvenir shopping so we said ‘yes’.

The market was actually more interesting than that. It was a farm of sorts where tobacco, cinnamon, cocoa, cilantro, mangoes, etc were grown and we got to watch cigars being rolled. That was something I was actually curious about as well but since we had chosen the Damajagua tour I didn’t expect to get to see.

When we arrived a tour group from a Norwegian cruise line was arriving at the same farm. I thought it was kind of funny that we got a free stop at a place those passengers paid for separately. While I wouldn’t have been that thrilled with it as an excursion if that was all we did, since it was a free stop off it was a pretty nice addition. It did not compare to what we saw in Costa Rica, however, at a cocoa farm there.

Day 4: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Old Town San Juan has been on my bucket list for years and it was right at the top of the list of places I was looking forward to seeing on the cruise. I had mentally put together a walking route to cover once we were off the ship and for the most part we covered it.

I’ve posted our walking route here as a guide for anyone that wants to use it for future reference. The only difference is that we walked around La Forteleza on the south outside the wall and up to Calle Fortaleza. Google Maps doesn’t seem to think you can do that.

There were four huge cruise ships in port in San Juan that day and that was immediately a big disappointment as almost every sidewalk and historic site was saturated with people for the first several hours. By the time we were finished eating lunch things were better but we also had less time before we had to start making our way back to the ship.

Our first stop was Castillo San Cristobal passing the Columbus statue in Plaza Colon along the way. Castillo San Cristobal is one of two national park sites in Old San Juan along with El Morro on the opposite side of the city.

The fortress is huge and it provided the land defense of the city while its twin El Morro provided the sea defense. The fortifications were built by the Spanish in the 1500s and were so well constructed the US army used both in World War II for coastal defense.

Unfortunately at that point Shelley was succumbing to a stomach illness that I also would acquire on the trip, and because of the high heat and humidity she decided she would have to let the rest of us continue the tour of OSJ in her absence. We were not going to stop until we’d seen the most important places (and had at least one piña colada).

We decided Castillo San Felipe El Morro was next and made the trek across the north part of the city to the second fortress.

El Morro seems even more impressive owing to its position at the edge of a peninsula. The kids enjoyed reading about the history of the fortress and viewing the defensive walls and entering the garitas (the guard towers that line the walls).

After spending time in El Morro it was lunchtime and the heat and humidity were wilting us so we decided to head off to find some lunch. Along the way we came to the Iglesia San Jose which was built in 1532 making it the oldest church in Old San Juan.

This was certainly a cool stop and a relief from the heat and the crowds. I knew that in one of the churches was the tomb of the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon. We asked at the church and they said it was originally there, but it was moved to the Cathedral Basilica San Juan down the street which was a decade younger.

All the restaurants in San Juan were filling with diners and most were pretty much overwhelmed by cruise traffic. We found El Patio del Sam and were just happy to get a seat out of the heat and a chance to enjoy some local food.

While our drinks came out quickly and the sole waitress was nice, the food took over an hour to arrive and we really weren’t sure it was even the right food (we ordered empanadas and were served breaded, flattened meat entrees, but we were not going to ask to have it changed). A few other tables of tourists were getting grouchy and complaining to the staff. We just decided to be chill and understanding. There were too many people and too few staff.

After eating, the streets were dramatically less populated, which was great. We made our way next to the cathedral which was also pleasantly quiet inside.

We did find the Tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon, the conquistador that once reputedly sought the Fountain of Youth (obviously he failed otherwise we wouldn’t have found his tomb).

We also found a rather interesting relic in the remains of Saint Pius that were brought to the cathedral in the 1800s. I realized that these were in fact the actual remains coated with wax but let out 10-year-old Evan believe on his own they were fake. I didn’t photograph the saint as I didn’t feel it was appropriate. I honestly had a dream a subsequent night about this experience.

After the cathedral we set off for La Fortaleza but only after passing through the gateway Puerta de San Juan in the wall. This gateway was one of the last that remained of what was once an encircling wall but which was partially removed. The gate led uphill to the cathedral.

We passed by La Fortaleza but because of time constraints we had to hasten this last part of our journey and moved directly on to Calle Fortaleza after passing through a park square.

Unfortunately Calle Fortaleza was undergoing roadwork so we proceeded on and just made a few quick souvenir shop stops in the Old town, enjoying the scenic architecture as we went.

With time running short and our energy depleted we made our way back to the ship.

Day 5: Saint Martin

I wanted to do some good snorkeling on this cruise as it’s been rather difficult to find good places to snorkel over the last few years. Key West was rather disappointing (dead coral and rough seas on an overcrowded catamaran) and we really didn’t try in Costa Rica (although we considered it).

The last relatively good snorkeling was on our last cruise in Roatan, and prior to that we had some good experiences in the Cayman Islands, Maui, and best of all (by far), Belize.

So I booked the one and only excursion of the trip through the cruise line: Ultimate Snorkel and Beach Break.

But the excursion wasn’t until 1PM and the ship arrived at 8AM. Which should have meant we had time to visit the historic town of Phillipsburg, Sant Maarten.

Instead upon exiting the ship at 9:30 (we took our time eating breakfast, etc) we found that the cruise port is a distance from the town and just finding a taxi to town was a pain. We eventually decided that we would be better off just spending a little time at the cruise port shops before returning to the ship to put on sunscreen, take Dramamine, get our cameras, and eat lunch.

The flag of Sant Maarten

When it was close to 1PM we made our way to the dock for our excursion and after a wait in the hot sun on the concrete pier, we were taken to the boat.

It was good to not be on a crowded catamaran, but when we were taken t o the snorkeling spot we saw not only the catamaran but several other boats. The excursion just went to the same snorkeling spot as every other tour.

We saw ballyhoo fish while snorkeling in St Martin

We were instantly disappointed on seeing hundreds of snorkelers in the same area, but we didn’t have another option. Little Bay seems to be the default snorkeling spot on Saint Martin and it does have some interesting things underwater (helicopter, submarine, cannon, etc) and some colorful fish, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for (a vibrant reef full of amazing sea life).

What made it worse was my attempt to move to the edge of the group led me to bump into a barnacle-encrusted boat nearby. I scraped my arm and was bleeding but didn’t even realize it until we exited the water.

The crew weren’t exactly the nicest either. They gave me peroxide but acted like I must have scraped on coral. The coral was far below as you can see in the video.

Once we were back on the boat we did get a pretty good tour that led to the French part of St Martin and around past Maho Beach where the airplanes land at the edge of the beach. I got a video of a plane landing right over our tour boat.

After that we went to Kim Sha Beach which was pretty nice with warm water and a sandy fenced-in shore. There was no real scenery there, however so I was kind of disappointed we weren’t at one of the other beaches we passed along the route.

Overall we kind of felt bummed out by the snorkeling tour experience. It was neat to travel around by sea and have the plane land overhead, but the snorkeling was our primary objective and that was less than we were hoping for.

We did see a resident iguana lounging on the pier as we made our way back to the ship after the tour.

As for my arm, I was worried about an infection after exposure to the uncertain sea water and barnacles, but after applying hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and some Neosporin I brought with us, I decided it was likely ok. I had to get right back in ocean water the next day, and since it had not yet scabbed over, it bled a little more in the ocean there as well. As of today (over a week later), the scrape is healing fine.

Day 6: St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

This was another stop I was looking forward to and had once made plans for on a cruise we never took. I had read about Virgin Islands National Park on St John and Trunk Bay and that was really where I wanted to go as a first priority.

Unfortunately the only excursions that went there were sold out (there is one called St John on Your Own, which I considered). And the ship was set to depart at 4 PM, requiring being back on the ship by 3PM (to be safe).

It is possible to take a cab to Red Hook on the east on of St Thomas to board a ferry to Cruz Bay on St John and then an open air taxi to Trunk Bay (or another beach on St John). But with only really about 5 hours to work with and four cruise ships in St Thomas that day, I wasn’t willing to risk it.

So I decided on what is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean and the second most famous in the USVI, Magens Bay. Getting to Magens Bay would just be a short taxi ride up and down to the north end of St. Thomas and would provide a nice day on the beach without any real rush. Afterward we would have time to do the Skyride at Adventure Point (right by the cruise terminal).

The taxi ride there was $12 per person (or $48 for four of us) each direction, plus $5 to enter the park for 12 and over. So we spent a little over a $100 to go the Magens Bay. Overall worth it. But make sure you have plenty of cash (we did).

Magens Bay was exactly what I expected: beautiful, crowded with cruise travelers and the water had little visibility so you really can’t snorkel. There are better places to snorkel in St Thomas so only go to this beach to enjoy completely calm, safe water and a beautiful beach.

After a couple hours we wanted to return to the port area to have lunch and ride the Skyride. That unfortunately wasn’t going to happen.

When we got back to the port the line for the Skyride was ridiculous. There were four huge ships in port that day and Adventure Point was overcrowded. I also wanted to do the Pirate Museum but the cost of admission for us seemed ridiculous at the time. We were hot and overwhelmed by the crowds and just wanted to get away.

We ended up re-boarding the ship knowing that the next stop on land would be in Port Canaveral. But we just didn’t have a lot of time to begin with and everything was overcrowded.

In the end I liked Magens Bay overall but felt disappointed with this stop. St. John would have been better. The itinerary just didn’t give us enough time in the port and there were too many other mega cruise ships in port as well.

Days 7 & 8: At Sea

Our last two days of the cruise were sea days. We made extra efforts to enjoy the activities on the ship these days, playing trivia several times, giant chess, and taking part in family games on deck five.

We ate in the Italian restaurant and had the Dr Seuss breakfast with Green Eggs and Ham. We took our portrait photos and went to the White Night party on the last night. Might as well get it all in.

We actually enjoyed these days the most of the cruise as we were starting to settle in more. We were also starting to feel ill (cold symptoms) which I don’t blame on the cruise but we were getting a tad worn down physically by the time the ship arrived in Port Canaveral.

We found the crew to be very nice aboard the ship and enjoyed many of the activities on the ship. But the crowds aboard the ship made it less relaxing than I was hoping for (the Serenity deck lounger, for instance, were rarely available). We didn’t even try to get into the pools due to the crowds and I started to cringe at the thought of the lines at the cafeteria on Lido Deck. So I don’t think we’ll go on a cruise on spring break again.

Day 9: Back to Orlando and Disney Hollywood Studios

With the cruise over we had still another day before our flight back to Colorado, since the difference in flight prices were substantial between Sunday and Monday.

We took the shuttle to get our Avis rental at Port Canaveral (which turned out to be a smaller car than I intended and we had several suitcases) and after stuffing ourselves into the little Kia Rio, we drove off to find breakfast.

We found a nice waffle diner in Cocoa Beach called C’s Waffles. We had some good waffles there and lots of coffee (much needed because of the cool weather and my cold symptoms). After eating we drove onward to Orlando and the Disney resort.

Both Shelley and I were starting to have cold symptoms and felt congested. So we canceled plans to go to Hollywood Studios that day as we were just too sick. And the weather was an unseasonably cold 58 degrees Fahrenheit. We would still stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort at Walt Disney World.

Once we arrived at the hotel and checked in we realized the resort wasn’t crowded at all and presumed the park wouldn’t be either. Also we really didn’t have any other plans for the day and the kids really wanted to go to the park. So we uncanceled our plans and decided to go ahead and visit Hollywood Studios.

Since we had our free pass I decided to put on the warmest clothes I could (my son’s flannel shirt) and we got aboard the sky tram to the park. It was very much worth it. We had a really good day that made up for the bad day we had at the Magic kingdom a year and a half before.

The reason we had a free pass was we complained about a prior visit which was a shitstorm in the covid era with grouchy staff and ridiculous mask rules. Now we had low expectations based on that but Hollywood Studios turned out to have some good new Star Wars rides, a new Toy Story rollercoaster, and the staff was nice too.

Our kids enjoyed the day at Disney a lot and honestly I enjoyed the resort hotel we stayed at after the crowding of the ship. The Caribbean Beach Resort was quiet and relaxing. We also really liked the direct access to Hollywood Studios from the hotel by the gondolas.

We got a late checkout for our room and then made our way to the airport to hang out in the United Lounge before our flight home. My cold was worsening but at least the airport lounge had coffee and soup to eat.

By the time we got home I would say we were exhausted and my cold made the flight a tad miserable (thanks for the in-flight tea). But overall I’d say it was a good trip. Maybe not as relaxing as I hoped for, but never boring either.

Cruise Packing List

Planning to go on a cruise in the next few months? Here’s a packing list to help ensure that you’ll be ready to go.

  1. Clothing
  2. Gear and Electronics
  3. Other Necessities


  • Swimsuits
  • Shorts/Pants
  • Shirts
  • Water shirt
  • Sunglasses
  • Sandals
  • Water Shoes
  • Walking Shoes
  • Hats

Gear and Electronics

  • Camera and chargers
  • Underwater camera
  • Backpacks
  • Phone and charging cords
  • Snorkel Gear
  • USB charging hub
  • Extra charging cords

Other Necessities

  • Passports
  • Flight, Hotel, Car Rental, Tour Reservations/Cruise Documents
  • Cosmetics
  • Sunscreen / Aloe Lotion
  • Eye Glasses/Contact Lenses (including spares)
  • Prescription Medication
  • Books/Kindles
  • Bug spray
  • Prepaid visa/mastercard
  • Cash
  • Dramamine / Motion sickness pills
  • Acetaminophen / Ibuprofen

Loveland Ski Area

Tango Road at Loveland Ski Area

Our ski and snowboard journey took us to Loveland Ski Area which sits right off the I-70 at the entrance to the Eisenhower/Johnson tunnel at the continental divide. This ski area is more basic with lifts in two areas (Loveland Valley and Loveland Basin), a few eateries, a rental shop and no on-site lodging.

We actually found that the Basin area is much more enjoyable than the Valley area. The Valley area has only a couple lifts and is meant for beginner skiers and snowboarders. Since my kids have progressed tremendously in one season we had no reason to spend much time in this area which was also quite crowded.

After returning by shuttle bus to the Basin area we had more fun on more interesting terrain and it was also less crowded (and the people actually less rude and willing to wait in line to get onto the lifts).

While we enjoyed the nearby Arapahoe Basin area which is just over Loveland Pass when we went to it a few years ago, Loveland was somewhat disappointing overall. We’ll head further on to a larger resort next time we go skiing.

Somewhere in the Pacific

There was an original influence for this painting from a historic photo. I couldn’t see details clearly enough to continue using it as the basis for the painting so I decided to just let my imagination take over. I combined influences from Samoa (the fan), Micronesia, Fiji, Hawaii, and Bali, which is why I named it ‘Somewhere in the Pacific’. She is holding a wicker fan.

Bad Advice

I know this is a strange topic but every day I seem to encounter some form of advice that runs counter to my acquired wisdom. Often I find that this advice is well-intentioned but it comes from sources that are either 1) too emotionally involved to be objective 2) too optimistic or pessimistic or 3) based on faulty or incorrect information. With that said here is my list of “bad advice” which you might want to be a bit skeptical about before taking to heart.

  1. Internet Ratings
  2. Buy This Now Before It’s Gone/While It’s On Sale!
  3. Everywhere is Safe
  4. It’s Ten Minutes Away

Internet Ratings

Rating: 1 out of 5.

We all like to use sites like TripAdvisor to ‘help’ us find the best places to stay, eat, and enjoy. The problem is that these sites do a poor job of weighting and vetting the sources of the ratings and simply post an ‘average’ mean score. Many people are simply too nice or too emotionally invested in whatever place they are rating, and others will jump straight to a lowest score based on one bad experience without regard to the other factors involved (like people that are angry they didn’t get a refund even when they canceled outside of the cancellation window). There are even people that mistake the low score for the high score.

Generally, you should throw out the high and low scores and read the actual reviews, particularly the most recent ones. Also, keep in mind that a dive establishment might have the highest rating because it has loyal patrons that are friends with the owners, when in fact an honest review would be more average. And of course, you can sometimes read the reviews and notice certain language and names that are indicative of people that might be tied to the ownership.

The best bet is really to look at the ratings only if there are many, many hundreds and read the reviews for consistent patterns by people that have made a lot of ratings (like myself). Those people are the ones that are to be trusted more often than not.

Buy This Now Before It’s Gone/While It’s On Sale!

There are dozens of variations of this pressure sales language but it’s essentially the same. If you don’t part with your money immediately this great opportunity to pay less will pass. From my experience, this is a total falsehood and can lead to spending a lot more in the long run.

First off, sales are ALWAYS going on except for high-demand things. That exact same before Christmas bargain will soon be the After-Christmas bargain. And then when we enter the low-shopping season you’ll have yet more bargains. You should never feel time pressure to buy anything unless there is truly such high-demand for whatever you are purchasing that waiting a moment longer really will mean it is sold out.

So yeah, plane tickets, concert tickets, room tickets might well have a time demand placed on them and you really shouldn’t wait. But never pay in advance for ANYTHING that you aren’t going to use or do within a short timeframe (if you can). It is always better to save up over time and spend a tad more out of pocket than to bury yourself in credit expense that leads to interest charges just because you get a little discount for spending less early than paying full price later on. And interest is money thrown in the trash can.

It’s also harder to get refunds sometimes than you realize. I always opt for the pay when you arrive option instead of in advance. If for some reason I need to cancel I don’t need to make sure I am refunded.

Everywhere is Safe

Just about every guidebook I read tends to give a false impression about the relative safety of just about everywhere. And it sometimes drives me crazy to think young, naïve adults will believe it and potentially get themselves into some tricky situations.

Nowhere on planet Earth is perfectly safe. There are human dangers, environmental dangers, financial dangers, and logistical dangers. Knowing these in advance and being properly aware of them is so very important in order to be safe wherever you go.

There are two types of extremes among the advice you’ll encounter. One is that of the rose-colored glasses crowd that just can’t admit to itself that criminals are real, that food safety standards and building codes might not be optimal, that mosquitoes and ticks might carry diseases, and that the weather and other environmental concerns might actually be present. The other is the chicken-little crowd that lives in utter fear of literally everything and everyone and is probably more unhappy than anyone that ran into any difficulties from the naïve crowd.

Neither is right, but the truth is that you can probably go anywhere and do anything you want as long as you take into consideration what might potentially go wrong and how to avoid it as best you can. Not carrying expensive items and keeping those items on you or in a safe can pretty much eliminate the risk of theft. Knowing which areas of cities have higher crime rates, taking rides only with established driver services and tour groups, and staying in areas with a police presence all go along way toward staying safe.

It might not sound friendly, but also it helps to know that it is ok to tell peddlers and vendors who are pestering you the word ‘no’. Say it and continue on without looking back. Often these people just want your attention long enough to suck you into a situation that you don’t want to find yourself in. I remember getting cajoled by hustlers in places like Tijuana and Belize City and New Orleans and while some of them might have been genuine, in other cases there are real risks of theft or worse. Legit or not, move on.

The French Quarter is full of street hustlers at night

As far as food and drink, fully cooked and served fresh is always the best bet. You can’t always see how food is prepared and how it was stored but killing bacteria is vitally important to preventing illnesses. Grilled food is generally the safest. Traveling is not the time to sample lukewarm food or rare delicacies.
Also tap water in many places, even the USA, isn’t always the cleanest. Personally, I like to buy bottled water wherever I am which gives everyone a good serving of clean drinking water as needed without having to reuse the same containers (which tend to get dirty). Just be a good person and make sure to recycle the bottles and don’t let them become plastic litter.
Also, of course, don’t imbibe in alcohol that isn’t served in a bottle or is served from a safe establishment. We’ve all read the horror stories about tainted alcohol.

You’ll rarely go wrong with craft beer

Also let’s not forget building codes in some places just aren’t all up to the same safety standards. AirBnb, Vrbo, etc are all popular for stays in vacation rentals but not every place has fire alarms, carbon-monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, etc.
If you can sleep at night with a window open, do so, even if it’s a bit hotter and more humid than you are used to. If you can’t open the window, you might pack a cheap fire alarm/CO detector to include in your luggage. Just set it up high (on a curtain rod, etc) in a room near the HVAC vents. Entire families have died as a result of CO poisoning in rental units and even hotels in places like Mexico and the Bahamas.

Prepaid Visa cards can be a great way to avoid having your credit card number stolen while traveling or losing your valuable credit cards (which you can keep in a safe). My wife and I both have had fraud charge alerts on our credit cards and unfortunately, while we lost no money, we lost access to the cards.
You can buy prepaid Visa cards and load them with $100, $500, … and you will likely have them fully spent long before a thief could try to charge the card. At worst, the amount you could lose is the amount you applied to the card.

Finally, be cautious of overly ‘friendly’ or ‘helpful’ strangers. There are countless stories of people who had their bags stolen after someone offered to help carry their luggage for them or stow it for them. Offers for ad-hoc tours, special discounts, or stays in places that are not commonly known can be a scam or worse.
We did once take a private cab tour of Puerto Vallarta and while it was excellent and we saw far more than we would have otherwise including the beaches, the overlooks, and the churches and city sights, all while being told the history of the city (the driver even took us to a Walmart and waited for us while we shopped), we would not do this again. We would only take established tours with known, reputable companies.
And be wary of strangers that seem too interested in your itinerary and where you are staying. While I’ve never encountered this, there are unfortunately many stories of criminals who will use that knowledge to victimize tourists if they know that the victim is leaving the next day and will thus be reluctant to go to police (essentially missing their flight in the process). If you start getting probing questions about your plans that seem geared toward figuring out your itinerary and where you will be staying, lie and walk away.

It’s Ten Minutes Away

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been told a place is a quick ten/thirty/sixty minute drive away only to find that it’s twice or three times that when we actually drive it. If you know the route exactly and have driven it repeatedly you will probably save a lot of time, but for drivers that are unfamiliar with the roads and traffic, those time estimates tend to be considerably understated.

I recommend giving yourself plenty of buffer time to avoid risking delays and missed connections and tours. I remember when we were in Charleston, SC we went first thing in the morning to Magnolia Plantation, then having to leave after a quick two hours to drive to Charleston harbor to make it to the ferry boat to Fort Sumter, and afterward running on to the Old Exchange and Provost for another tour. In the end we made it to everything but it was not relaxing and the rushing from one place to another took some of the fun out of it.

Don’t underestimate your drive times

I’ve learned the hard way not to be ridiculously ambitious in your planning. I enjoyed our trip to the Carolinas and Tennessee but the rapid movement across three states in less than a week made it more stressful and less relaxing than it should have been. Don’t try to cover too much ground too quickly.

Make sure you get to the airport at least two hours ahead of your flight (if not three), giving yourself time to make sure you have everything and aren’t in a mad sprint to the gate. Flying is hectic enough without the added pressure of trying to get through security and to the departure gate in a rush. Also, schedule connections with a little leeway, not less than an hour.

Finally, take advantage of every possible pre-boarding and early boarding option that you can for flights, cruises, etc. If you have to spend a little to take advantage, just spend the little extra. You don’t want to fight for seats and stand in exhaustingly long lines needlessly.

Our Dogs

We have a 6 1/2 year-old Goldendoodle named Honey and a 15 year-old Chihuahua named Sassy.

Goldendoodles are a mix of two of the four smartest breeds (poodle and golden retriever). While mischievous, Honey is a terrific dog and brings a lot of fun to our family.

Sassy is slowing down with age but we have come to really like Chihuahuas too. They are not good with the snow but are intelligent and friendly.

A Ski Weekend in Taos

  1. Taos Ski Valley
  2. Sleigh Ride to the Bavarian
  3. Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
  4. Monte Sagrado Resort
  5. Orlando’s Mexican Restaurant

Taos Ski Valley

We had a lot of fun on the snow with our kids at Taos Ski Valley. We spent more hours in one day skiing than ever before. My kids advanced considerably at skiing and snowboarding.

I took my GoPro and tried it out on a few different runs you can view below.

First my son and I went down a section of Rubezahl toward the village:


We followed that with lots of runs on Pioneer:


I also made a couple runs on Whitefeather. I recorded the entire length but condensed it for viewing here:


Sleigh Ride to the Bavarian

We took a night time sleigh ride pulled by a snow cat to the German Bavarian restaurant at Taos Ski Valley. It was a bit expensive but very good and a lot of fun. It was a four course meal and I had schnitzel, strudel, cabbage, soup, and of course a liter of hefeweizen.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Since the weather was turning for the worse and we didn’t want to risk getting stuck in heavy snow on the way home we made only a single stop on Sunday. We went to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge which was very impressive, especially in the snow. We’ll be back in warmer weather to see more of Taos’ museums, art galleries, and historic sites.

Monte Sagrado Resort

We stayed at the Monte Sagrado Resort which looks very nice but there were actually a lot of small issues that added up to it not being a place we would stay at again. We had to switch rooms after arriving because the first room wasn’t fully cleaned and there were dogs barking across the hall.

The new room was clean and quiet but the incredibly slow water flow made the bath tub unusable unless you plan to literally wait hours. The internet WIFI also never worked more than sporadically.

Orlando’s Mexican Restaurant

When we arrived we decided to give this popular restaurant a try. The wait was long in a heated patio area, but once we were seated the New Mexican green chili enchiladas and margaritas made up for it. I definitely recommend it.

Travel and the Creative Arts

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